Musician, composer, storyteller and author Travis Edward Pike is easily akin to a renaissance man, an artist whose series of fantasy adventures and cerebral soundtracks have made him a one man cottage industry. At this point in his career, Pike’s consistency and creativity are well established and each new entry in his similarly themed albums and adventures contribute to the sprawling epic that his imagination has spawned over the course of his remarkably prolific career. With his latest epic, Changeling’s Return, the newest installment of the ongoing adventure yarn, Pike continues to convey his magical tales through a symphonic surge and a cinematic sweep which fully convey the drama and drive to a dazzling degree. Conceived and conveyed as a rock opera of sorts, it has the various characters singing their roles while filling in the arc of the storyline in picturesque detail. The imaginative flourishes and arched expression of the singers and musicians involved make for an audio extravaganza, one that relays the action in vivid detail. To be sure, these aren’t meant as stand-alone songs, but rather part of a continuing thematic arc. Those enthralled by earlier landmark rock operas such as Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar will find much to admire here, a comparison that ought to position Pike as Andrew Lloyd Weber’s heir apparent in terms of both talent and triumph.
Jim Basnight is no stranger to the realms of power pop, having recorded with any number of like-minded contemporaries, among them, the Moberlys, the Rockinghams and his own Jim Basnight Thing. However, no matter what the moniker, consistency is key, and his knack for combining an effusive melody with a radiant, reliable hook is as credible as it is consistent. So it comes as no surprise that his new 20-song opus Jokers, Idols & Misfits finds him immersing himself in a series of cover songs by any number of artists for whom he expresses obvious admiration. Some of the entries lean on a familiarity factor — The Who’s “I Can See For Miles,” The Beatles’ “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” The Kinks’ “This Is Where I Belong” — while other offerings lean to the slightly more obscure. Regardless, Basnight puts his own spin on each entry, often taking an edgy approach that reflects a rock regimen spawned across a trans-continental divide stretching from his native Seattle to the urban environs of New York City. Basnight is a natural when it comes to bringing that insurgency to the surface, and he boasts a ‘60s sensibility that underscores his prolific prowess. Indeed, Basnight’s commitment to the cause is nothing short of remarkable.
The late Jimmy LaFave typified the very best of the Texas singer-songwriter tradition, who like other greats from the Lone Star State — Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, Robert Earl Keen, Lyle Lovett, and the like, had the knack for blending imagery and imagination in equal quantities. He performed and recorded literally up until the end and died within three days of his final concert. Two posthumous releases have appeared since then, the latest of which, Highway Angels…Full Moon Rain, boasts a mixture of blues, highway rockers and emotional ballads, all enhanced by LaFave’s expressive vocals and a sobering sense of drive and determination. Even as his life was drawing to a close, he hadn’t lost his knack for creating an effusive impression, and indeed, songs such as “Minstrel Boy Howling at the Moon,” “The Loneliness of America,” “One Angel Is You” and “Is It Still Raining” tug at the heartstrings and resonate with an expressive sense of emotion that resonates even deeper in light of his passing while also reinforcing the fact that his reputation still looms large among his friends and followers. Newcomers would be well advised to start here and then work backwards to the beginning.
The Black Watch is, and has always been, the brainchild of singer/guitarist/songwriter John Andrew Fredrick, but with their stunning new album, the inexplicably dubbed fromthing somethat, the music offers the sense that this is more of a group effort, with a full line-up of support musicians and backing vocalists filling out the roster like never before. As a result, the music makes a deeper, denser, and in many cases, a much more ominous impression. The psychedelic overtones are impossible to avoid, and the similarity to Pink Floyd and the Moody Blues is all too obvious as well, especially given the mesh of vocal harmonies, the overall thrust and some decidedly cerebral settings. The song titles alone — Saint Fair Isle Sweater,” “The Nothing That Is,” “Green Stars, Clouds Departing,” “All I Know (Is That the Moon is Beautiful),” and “Such Like Friendly Demons,” in particular — lend themselves to that otherwise obtuse feel, bringing a Bowie-esque mystique into the mix as well. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating fusion all the way, and at times the songs seem to soar as if aiming for a kind of cosmic brew. Fredrick and company have clearly outdone themselves with this album, and thankfully this particular watch is able to keep on ticking with a timeless trajectory.
Mic Harrison and the High Score have earned the distinction of being one of the most dynamic and diving rock and roll bands in Knoxville Tennessee, and that distinction is further served by their striking new LP, aptly titled Bright Spot. While the group has never been especially shy about unleashing songs packed with frenzy and fury, the new album is even more unbridled than before, a potent combination of unabashed, straight-forward rock and roll driven by a decided edge and intensity that’s rarely held in reserve. Nevertheless, these tempestuous melodies are completely on target, and the fury conveyed in the vocals leaves no doubt as to their urgency and aggression. At times, there’s more than a hint of pure punk passion, although the hooks continue to resonate throughout each of the catchy choruses and all the anthemic entreaties. Likewise, although Bright Spot eschews any softer sentiment or basic balladry, there’s no mistaking the emotional intent inherent in each of the 13 tumultuous tracks contained herein. Anyone yearning for music emboldened by pure, unmitigated energy and unbridled intensity, as delivered with both passion and purpose, will find this effort a bright listening spot indeed.
Alecia Nugent embodies the essence of genuine country soul, an award-winning singer who may remind one of Emmylou Harris or Dolly Parton given her sweet caress and heartfelt sentiment. Her new album, The Old Side of Town, bears an apt title, thanks to Nugent’s ability to tap into tradition while still creating a sound that’s every bit as vibrant and refreshing as anything offered up by the current crop of country contenders. Produced by veteran musician and affirmed hitmaker Keith Stegall, the new album finds Nugent covering an array of tunes by any number of successful songwriters, while putting her own stamp on each of them. To her credit, she also co-wrote half of the ten tracks included herein, but regardless of their origin, there’s not a single song here that doesn’t resonate with her own personal perspective and resolute vocals. Indeed, offerings such as “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like My Daddy Anymore,” “Tell Fort Worth I Said Hello” and “The Other Woman” sound like certified classics from the get-go. There’s no doubt that Nugent is clearly a contender.